The Government’s plan to exit lockdown is “full of risks” and the potential impact on the NHS is “deeply worrying”, the British Medical Association has warned.
Boris Johnson announced the introduction of new tiers from December 2 to replace England’s lockdown, with more areas facing tougher restrictions than the previous regional regime.
But Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chairman, said: “The Government has had nearly a month to devise a realistic plan to halt the spread of Covid-19, in order to protect people’s health and prevent the NHS facing collapse.
“Worryingly, the Prime Minister has revealed a plan that is full of risks and threatens to undo the progress and undermine the difficult sacrifices the public have made in that time.
“The Prime Minister says the new measures are tougher than October when in reality many are far more relaxed, at a time when infection rates and Covid-related hospitalisations and deaths remain high.
“For doctors and NHS staff who are already working under incredible pressure, the potential impact on NHS services is deeply worrying.”
Dr Nagpaul said it is “extremely concerning” that outdoor events with crowds of up to 4,000 people will be allowed and groups of 1,000 will be able to congregate indoors.
Outdoor venues in Tier 1 areas – those considered lowest risk – will be permitted to admit up to 4,000 spectators or allow 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lower.
Outdoor venues in Tier 2 will be permitted to admit up to 2,000 fans or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lower, while the caps are 2,000 and 1,000 respectively for indoor venues in Tier 1 and Tier 2.
Dr Nagpaul added: “And there’s no change to the illogical rule of six applying indoors – when the Government itself has repeatedly said that mixing of different households indoors is the greatest cause of spread of the virus.
“A ‘rule of 2 households’, as proposed in the BMA’s own exit strategy, would do far more to prevent transmission.
“Now equipped with knowledge of the failings of the first three-tiered system, which led to another national lockdown, the Government must not repeat the same mistakes and risk accelerating the spread of the virus.
“Short of reconsidering these measures, at the very least the Government must be stringent when allocating tiers from the offset rather than waiting for the situation to get worse in areas as we have seen before.”
Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: “In the run-up to Christmas, retail will be open come what may, but it must be recognised that this could afford the virus an opportunity to spread rapidly.
“We may have to pay a further cost in 2021, not only in terms of restrictions but also illness, hospitalisations and deaths.”
Liam Smeeth, professor of clinical epidemiology and dean of the faculty of epidemiology and population health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “A road map towards a much better time for the UK is becoming clear.
“A period of tiered measures in December is warranted now in order to allow some social mixing at Christmas.
“A further circuit-breaker in January or possibly February may well be needed because Christmas will place huge upward pressure on transmission rates.
“But it is realistic to hope that by March or April the vast majority of older people, care home residents, and those with severe conditions will have been immunised. We can then work towards wider immunisation – with ideally most or all of the population covered in time for next winter.
“Life won’t ever be the same as it was before Covid-19, but within a few months it will feel a whole lot better than now.”